The multibillion-pound expansion of Heathrow violates the rights of children and future generations, who will face the greatest impact of the climate crisis, lawyers will argue at the court of appeal in London.
Fresh legal challenges on Thursday by environmental NGOs, councils and the mayor of London against the construction of a third runway will be presented during a five-day hearing.
The high court ruled in spring that the government’s decision to allow a third runway was lawful. Since then, it has signed into law a commitment for the country to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The Committee on Climate Change, the government’s statutory adviser, previously warned aviation was likely to be the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK by then.
Lawyers will argue for the first time that the rights of children were not taken into account by the government when it approved the third runway.
The court has allowed the World Wide Fund for Nature to submit documents arguing the planned expansion violates the rights of future generations under the UN convention on the rights of the child.
The intervention by WWF comes after young people spearheaded the biggest climate change protest in history last month, and follows Greta Thunberg’s challenge to world leaders that their inaction was letting down a generation.
Debbie Tripley, WWF’s director of environmental policy, said: “Children have a right to have a voice in this … particularly where there is very clearly a disproportionate burden that will fall on them in relation to future climate impacts.”
The shadow chancellor said campaigners against the new runway were on the verge of victory. Speaking after a rally outside the court, John McDonnell said: “Last time we were in court the government had not just legislated in the Paris agreement, and parliament had not just agreed we were in a climate emergency.
Friends of the Earth, which is leading the challenge on climate grounds, said since the previous court hearing in March, many things had changed.
“The government has legislated for net-zero carbon emissions under the Climate Change Act, which our client believes would have almost no chance of being met if the expansion of Heathrow was to go ahead,” said Rowan Smith, a lawyer at Leigh Day representing Friends of the Earth.
“It gives further weight to our client’s arguments that the expansion goes against the government’s own climate change goals.”
Will Rundle, the head of legal affairs at Friends of the Earth, said: “The government has admitted that it did not consider the Paris agreement when agreeing to Heathrow expansion. We hope the court of appeal now agrees with us that this is not sustainable development and ignores the needs of future generations.”
A coalition of local authorities – Wandsworth, Richmond upon Thames, Hillingdon, Hammersmith and Fulham – joined by the mayor and Greenpeace, will argue the government’s decision to approve the expansion was flawed because ministers failed to properly consider the full impact on noise levels, health and the environment. A decision is expected in December.
Ravi Govindia, the leader of Wandsworth council, said: “The third runway will have devastating consequences for the health of Londoners. It is also becoming clearer by the day that expansion will play havoc with the government’s zero carbon targets.”
In documents published as part of the consultation process, Heathrow said it should “not come at any cost”.
The airport outlined plans for low-emissions zones and congestion charges to stem local air pollution. The proposals involve a phased expansion up to 2050, with terminal buildings added after the runway as passenger numbers reach 140 million a year.
The M25, Britain’s busiest motorway, will be moved up to 150 metres west and run through a tunnel under the new runway and taxiways. A temporary bridge across the motorway will be built for construction vehicles.
Heathrow has said the expansion will cost £14bn but critics suggest the true figure will be close to £30bn.
Outside Court for legal appeals, John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor, says fight against Heathrow 3rd runway on verge of victory
Speaking to the protest gathering outside the High Court, before the start of the legal appeals against Heathrow expansion, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell considered that the campaigns against the runway plans were on the verge of victory; the situation had moved on from when the legal challenges started, as the UK has now both declared a climate emergency and legislated for a net-zero emissions target. He praised campaigners outside court for their persistent actions over many years, and said: “I think legislatively things have moved and politically, with the current campaigning by Extinction Rebellion, the pressure is on all politicians to recognise this is a project that cannot stand.” Five legal challenges were brought against the Secretary of State for Transport, in March. Two were entirely on grounds of climate change (Friends of the Earth and Plan B Earth). The court dismissed the challenges on 1st May, and appeals have been allowed for four of them. Opening the appeal, Lord Justice Lindblom said the hearing would raise matters of obvious importance, which would be of interest to a national and international audience. Much hinges on whether the correct UK carbon targets, and commitments under the 2015 Paris agreement were properly taken into account when approving the 3rd runway.